Do you know about Google’s new ranking signal? How secure is your website? Do you use HTTPS? If you don’t know the answers to these questions (and even if you do), read on.
People who use your website are displaying their trust in you. After all, if you knew a website was untrustworthy, how often would you go there? A big factor when it comes to whether a website is trustworthy is its security. Unsecure websites lose customer data and can be corrupted (and can corrupt users' computers at the same time). Google knows that website security is linked to trustworthiness, which is why they’ve altered their search algorithm accordingly.
Why Site Security Matters (and How It Affects SEO)
In 2014, Google announced that website security would begin affecting their search algorithm, saying, “...over the past few months we’ve been running tests taking into account whether sites use secure, encrypted connections as a signal in our search ranking algorithms. We've seen positive results, so we're starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal.”
HTTPS is similar to the HTTP that most web addresses use. The only differences is that HTTPS is more secure. (That’s what the “S” is for.) HTTPS is also known as “HTTP over TLS.” TLS stands for “Transport Layer Security” and is a way of securing information online.
Google specified that whether a website uses HTTPS will be a rather weak ranking signal at first (affecting less than 1% of total queries), but there’s no question security will be affecting search results more drastically in the future. The announcement went on to specify that the ranking signal is weak “while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS.”
So if a website’s ability to rank in search results is going to be affected by whether it uses HTTPS, how can small business owners take advantage of this change?
Benefits of Secure Sites
Increasing site security is going to have a two-fold bonus, especially in an era when hackers are constantly trying to break into websites.
Firstly, sites that are more secure are less likely to leak sensitive customer data like credit card numbers and email addresses. Using HTTPS instead of HTTP will play a part in increasing a website’s security.
Specifically, HTTPS offers a website three levels of protection:
- Encryption: When users browse a website, their behavior is encrypted, preventing third parties (like hackers or governments) from “listening in” on what they’re doing
- This helps keep third parties from stealing user information or seeing what pages users visit.
- Data integrity: Ensures that a websites data can’t be changed or corrupted while its being transferred without being detected.
- Authentication: Users can trust that they’re browsing your website as they intended.
- Authentication helps protect against man-in-the-middle attacks, when a third party pretends to be someone (like your website) in order to get access to secret information.
A second major benefit to using HTTPS is that doing so will provide a small boost in search engine rankings!
But even if we accept that small business owners should be changing their HTTP sites over to HTTPS sites, how do you do that? Luckily, it’s fairly easy. (And not very expensive, either.)
How to Switch to HTTPS
First off, you’ll need to obtain a TSL certificate from a trusted certificate authority. (Many hosting companies offer TSL certificates.) You’ll also need to make sure you purchase the right kind of certificate for your business.
- A single certificate secures a single website.
- A multi-domain certificate secures several different websites.
- A wildcard certificate secures several subdomains of the same website.
For example:support.example.com, app.example.com, etc.
Once you’ve purchased the right TSL certificate, get in touch with your hosting provider and let them know you’d like to switch over to HTTPS. They should be able to change things over for you.
There are a few pitfalls to avoid when changing from HTTP, however. Here’s what you should keep in mind.
Common HTPPS Mistakes
- TSL certificates can expire. Be sure yours is up to date.
- Certificates need to have the correct host name or they’ll create an error. This will make a website look untrustworthy--the exact opposite of what you’re trying to achieve by changing to HTPS.
- Ensure that the links on the HTTP version of your site send readers to the correct pages.
- After making the change, go through each of your links with a fine-tooth comb and check to see that they’re sending people to HTTPS pages.
- Try to let search engines index as many pages as possible. Avoid using the “noindex” meta tag.
Google cares about website security, as do Internet users, and small business owners will endear themselves to both by switching over to HTTPS. The SEO benefits might be small at first, but there’s a host of benefits to making the change, plus it’s easy to do. So get started!
If you're already a Pronto client, reach out to our team to learn more about how we can help switch your site to HTTPS.
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